This is the second post in a four-part series, written by Charlene Blohm and Dennis Pierce, reviewing communications strategies discussed during the CETL Summit at the 2015 Annual CoSN Conference.
Communicating effectively with your superintendent, school board, principals, teachers and other departments requires deliberate planning, and there is no such thing as over-communication when trying to earn support for your ed tech vision.
During the CETL Summit in Atlanta on March 19, we presented some tips on how to maximize your value as a school district CTO by communicating more effectively with both internal and external stakeholder groups. Here is some of the advice we shared about communicating internally with district stakeholders:
- You can’t over-communicate. In his book You Can’t Not Communicate, David Grossman says: “As a leader, not communicating isn’t an option. In fact, the most effective leaders know that their success hinges on being leader communicators.”
There is no such thing as too much communication—and many CTOs aren’t communicating as often as they should be with key stakeholder groups.
- Plan your communications. Determine how often you’ll provide regular updates and when to share interim alerts. What sources will be included in your communication strategy?
You should plan to communicate across multiple channels, such as email, district newsletters, face-to-face meetings, and so on. For written communications, prepare brief messages with links to access further details. Create a timeline for your communications, assess your effectiveness and adjust your strategy as necessary.
- Think like the recipient. Learn the communication styles of various team members and target audiences: What do they want to know? What are their sources of information? Who do they trust to deliver new information?
Whenever possible, communicate in the style your audiences prefer. This might require multiple communications over an extended period of time.
- Communicate 360 degrees. Communicating effectively involves reaching out in all directions. Communicate up to your superintendent and your school board; communicate sideways by collaborating with your curriculum team and other departments; and communicate out to principals, teachers and others.
Assign roles to other district leaders (or better yet, ask for volunteers). Provide the information that others in your district need to communicate to their audiences. As Dr. Patrick Murphy, Superintendent of the Arlington Public Schools in Virginia, said at last year’s CTO Forum: “Make your superintendent look good.”
- Focus on 3-4 key points. The more you say, the less people hear—so keep your messages simple and concise. And don’t be afraid to walk your audience through your presentation.
For instance, you could start by saying: “Here are three things we’re going to talk about: (thing 1), (thing 2), (thing 3)…” At the end, you could wrap up by saying: “Let’s review the three things we talked about today…” You might even leave your audience with a preview of your next interaction: “Here’s what we’ll focus on the next time we’ll meet.”
- Identify champions who can help you spread your message. Who do your audience members trust and admire? Pick communications partners who will help you keep the focus on learning—and build your communications capacity over time.
- Ask questions. Sometimes the best way to strategize is to ask questions. But be sure to listen closely to the answers—and plan follow-up communications around these responses.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Studies show that people need to hear and see information at least three times before they commit to action. Build a 3×3 or 3×5 matrix that spells out which message has been communicated to which audiences, and through which channels. And be patient—change takes time.
We also led a group discussion in which CETL Summit participants talked about their biggest internal communications challenges, and how they approach these challenges. Some observations:
- “Bad news doesn’t get better with age. If there is a problem/issue/something amiss, let folks know immediately. Once the bad news is out there, keep everyone updated.”
- “Relationships and credibility are important in communicating your message. Keep messages short. Use picture, videos, charts, and graphs to tell your story.”
- “Keep your message simple and as non-‘techy’ as possible; your audience is mostly educators, not technicians.”
- “Take time to share success, especially when you’ve been proactive and fixed a problem before it occurred.”
The Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) program is a CoSN-led initiative to certify the skills and qualifications of school district CTOs. There are 135 CETLs from 22 states. To learn more about this designation or to register for the exam, go to http://www.cosn.org/certification.